“The primary ethical issue of modern medicine and public health is the outcome gap,” write Paul Farmer and Nicole Gastineau Campos in an essay published in 2004. Entrenched in “growing social inequalities,” this gap is immediately evident to every physician: poverty is inversely proportional to health. “The growing gap,” they elaborate, “constitutes the chief human rights challenge of the 21st century.” The proliferation of people who never experience abuse of their civil rights, but lack access to medical care, has damaging societal implications: “what does it mean when an African-American neonate does not have ready access to a neonatal intensive care unit?” The answer is that “[w]henever more effective technologies are introduced there will be, in the absence of an equity plan, a growing outcome gap.”
Around the country, this gap is exploding. Surviving an illness may sometimes depend on the good will of kids. I kid you not. Carlos Olivas, Jr., a 12 year-old boy, in view that Arizona’s cuts to Medicare meant certain death to a man who he had never met named Francisco Felix, decided to help, raising money in the street. Carlos’ empathy toward Mr Felix―at least in part―originates from the thought of finding his father (who has cirrhosis) in a similar situation.
A sense of responsibility toward others, as exhibited by this young man, is the foundation of all societies. Carlos is an exemplary citizen, proof that the Social Contract is an intuitive concept. His behavior is strictly rational: today, I’m strong and can help the weak; tomorrow, when I’m not as strong, someone will help me.